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Book II, Canto IX

May 7, 2011

This canto is pretty interesting, even if the allegory in places is a bit weird. Spenser begins with a statement on the human body – how it is the most excellent of all creation when governed by a rational mind, but without restraint is a monster.

We return to the narrative with Prince Arthur asking Guyon about his shield’s image of Gloriana. Guyon praises her as the wisest and most virtuous ruler on earth, and Arthur praises her knights and their valiance. Guyon suggests that Arthur join the Queen’s Order of Maidenhead. It turns out that Arthur has been searching for Gloriana for the past year, but has not yet found the land of Faerie. Then Guyon tells Arthur all the adventures he’s had so far in Book II. By this time it is getting dark, so the knights approach a nearby castle to find lodging for the knight.

The castle is locked up. Arthur blows his horn to get the attention of the watchman, who warns them to run because the castle is under siege. Before they can respond they are attacked by a horde of ragged villeins. Evidently they are not very good soldiers because Arthur and Guyon defeat a thousand of them in just a couple of stanzas. With the enemies defeated, they are finally allowed into the castle.

It is the residence of a lady named Alma (the soul), and the structure is an allegory for the physical human body. As the knights are led by Alma on a grand tour of the castle, they see complicated descriptions of the 16th century’s idea of bodily functions.

First is the mouth gate, through which everything that comes into the castle must pass. Then the rest of the face is compared to a porch (the chin) and a¬†porticullis (the nose), with facial hair described as vines. A Porter sits in the mouth as the tongue, with guards representing teeth on either side. As they descend into the castle interior, they enter the stomach area and meet the personifications of Diet and Appetite. The intestines are represented as a furnace system, the lungs as a bellows, and the bladder as a “great round vessell” that empties through a conduit pipe out the back gate.

Next Alma leads the knights into the Parlor, where a bunch of ladies and gentlemen sit around courting each other. The people in this room are distilled versions of emotions and attitudes. Arthur pairs up with a lady who looks melancholy – when he inquiries why, she responds that she is bummed because she isn’t as famous as she wishes she were, and accuses him of the same fault. Arthur is surprised at the revelation, but knows it to be correct. He discovers that the lady’s name is Praise-desire, an attribute he shares.

Meanwhile, Guyon has a similar experience, pairing up with a girl who is too abashed to speak with him. She can’t keep eye contact or stop blushing. Alma informs Guyon that she is Shamefastness – the same attitude that Guyon has, filling him with humility but keeping him from his full potential.

Then the knights ascend a tower into the head of the structure. There are two complex lights that function as eyes, and the brain is displayed abstractly as three men who reside in the tower. The first is a young man in a room full of ideas and imaginations – Phantastes. The second is a middle-aged man in a room full of politics, art, science, and philosophy – Judgement, the discriminator. The last is an ancient man in a library, assisted by a boy (Reminder) who fetches him things – Memory, the keeper of knowledge and history.

The knights are fascinated by this library. Arthur picks up a tome on the ancestry of Briton’s kings, while Guyon starts on a volume of Fairieland’s history.


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